Maine State Pier repair costs ride a roller coaster

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PORTLAND — As the city tries to figure out what to do with the Maine State Pier, newly released cost estimates for fixing the structure suggest the pier isn’t in dire straits after all.

When Portland put out a request for proposals for redevelopment of the pier in 2006, city officials insisted the city could not afford maintenance of the 1,000-foot long pier. The issue was a controversial one, with hundreds of people turning out for public meetings about rezoning of the structure and two developers duking it out for the right to build on the 87-year-old pier.

An initial cost estimate for repairs at the pier, prepared by Appledore Marine Engineering in August 2006, suggested the city invest $5 million to $10 million in piling repairs over a five- to 15-year period, and also spend $1.6 million to repair the deck and the wall around the pier.

During the months of discussion about the pier, city officials threw out numbers ranging from $8 million to $13 million. City Councilor John Anton, who was not on the council in 2006 but was on the Planning Board, said the numbers were never substantiated.

“They were just blowing smoke back in the day,” Anton said. “The numbers were never supported with research.”

After The Olympia Cos. was chosen to develop the pier, the cost estimates in the company’s proposal to the city in February 2007 suggested the pier needed $18 million in repairs. Olympia terminated redevelopment negotiations with the city in December; the other contender, Ocean Properties, backed out in January.

In February, a study performed by the Louis Berger Group found the pier in need of as much as $26 million in repairs. The city hired Berger in response to the Olympia estimate, city Director of Planning and Urban Development Penny Littell said.  The study cost the city $27,000.

This summer, the city hired TEC Associates to further study the condition of the pier. The estimate for repairs came back even lower.

“We’ve set some rough estimates,” Littell said. “Added up, they are at the low end of the Appledore estimate.”

Littell said the wide range in cost estimates is a result of what the engineers were hired to examine. The $18 million estimate and the $26 million estimate are based on total rebuild of the pier, because of the substantial development that was proposed.

Now that the city has scaled back its plans for the pier, Littell said the estimates reflect that revision.

Anton said the city should have hired TEC to study the pier in the first place.

“What (TEC consultant Wayne) Duffett is doing now is what we should have been doing four years ago,” he said, noting that Duffett has experience examining the state of piers along Portland’s waterfront.

The council Community Development Committee is set to discuss the future of the pier in meetings throughout the summer. That committee’s recommendations are expected to be forwarded to the full council in the fall, Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell said.

For now, the city is considering small improvements to the pier, including rehabilitating the deck, taking down part of the transit shed and renovating a portion of the shed to be used for cruise ship support, bike and scooter rental, cafe and retail space and office use.

“We’re working on getting clear consensus from the council first,” Mitchell said, when asked if any developers have shown interest in the property. “Then we’ll go out to the private sector.”

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or